Tag Archives: 80s Movies

Reconsidering Billy Francis Kopeke…

This past week I dove back into my Awesome 80s Bedrooms dissections by taking a look at Josh Baskin’s childhood room in the 1988 Penny Marshall film Big.  After posting that article a reader (The Navigator) pointed out the fact that there is an Extended Edition of the flick on DVD with some extra sequences in Josh’s room, so at the next opportunity I got I ran out to my local used DVD shop and picked up a copy.  After watching through the longer version of the film I was sort of taken aback by a slight shift in the tone.  Though the movie has a nice balance of slapstick, heart and sadness that has elevated it past its 80s zany comedy roots into a true cinema classic, most of the excised footage that was added back into film plays to the more somber notes of the story and in particular adds a whole new depth to the character of Baskin’s BFF (or BFK), Billy Francis Kopeke.  About 10 minutes of these restored deleted scenes feature Jared Rushton’s Billy, and a sizable chunk of these are solo scenes focusing on the character’s home life, his interaction with Josh’s Mom and his mission to track down the errant Zoltar machine that will save his friend from a particularly nasty case of early onset adulthood.  This footage gave me a new appreciation for Billy and it forced me to look at the movie with a whole new perspective.  It alters the light-hearted comedic tone for me, as well as sort of switching the focus of the story from appreciating one’s own childhood to a sobering fight to save a friendship.

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Before I dig into my new appreciation for Billy, I wanted to take a second and note that I love Jared Rushton’s performance in the flick.  Rushton brought a realism to Billy that is lacking in so many of the other kid characters from 80s flicks that I adore.  Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love movies like The Monster Squad, Explorers or the Goonies, a lot of the kids in these flicks were very obviously “acting”, lacking that natural, authenticity that made the characters feel, well, real.  They tend to be caricatures of kids, which is great for what it is and for serving those stories, but it tends to hold these films back from feeling like true “classics”.  A good comparison might be the difference between Stand By Me and say the Goonies.  Both top favorites of mine, but no matter how much I praise and love Mikey, Data, Mouth and Chunk they don’t have that effortless relate-ability.  They’re too “loud”, character-wise.  For me, Rushton brought a much more nuanced take on Billy even for his scripted excitement over the Truck-a-Piller, or his overreacting tears when Hanks as Josh first approaches him in the school gym equipment room.

As for the character of Billy, while watching back through to film to try and spot a bunch of pop culture fun I noticed a couple things about Kopeke I hadn’t really processed before.  For instance there’s the fact that he’s apparently a huge fan of monsters.  He’s constantly sporting monster shirts throughout the flick, from the high contrast Wolfman image he’s wearing in the shot above, to the shirts featuring Frankenstein’s monster, the Creature, and even a Forbidden Planet tee in the shots below…

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This also becomes a little more apparent when I took a closer look at Billy’s bedroom in the couple of scenes at the beginning of the film before Josh gets “Big”.  You can see some Frankenstein and Mummy figures on the floor and in a toy crate…

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Nothing Earth-shattering, but it was kind of a cool thing to notice personally since I’ve become such a monster kid over the last couple of decades.  Anyway, getting back to the more developed version of Billy Kopeke, one of the first re-inserted scenes in the extended edition of Big follows Billy as he and Josh split up after coming home from their stick-ball game and massive session of “need it, got it, need it, need it, got it”.  In the original version the sequences cuts to Josh and Billy in their PJs discussing whether or not Josh has a shot with Cynthia, the blonde from the credits sequence that he has a crush on.  In the extended cut Josh gets a little whiny with his parents for insisting they moving his toddler sister into his room.  What I found fascinating is that this is inter-cut with Billy going home to his family (who we see on screen for the first time, well at least we now know that they’re his family), and having to basically play the dual role of the invisible child/housekeeper.

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The sequence shows him making dinner and setting the table as his rather large family bickers and zones out around the dinner table.  No one thanks him as he pulls a roast from the oven and sets it down, or butters the potatoes and brings them to the table.  There’s just a constant set of shrill complaints from his overbearing mother (uncredited but portrayed by the striking Francis Fisher) who ironically is lambasting her family for not lifting a finger to help her (as Billy does all the work.)  He then proceeds to fix himself a plate and goes up alone to his room to eat and then talk with Josh, reassuring, encouraging and supporting his best friend through his girl-crush crisis.

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Again, it’s not like this scene is so pivotal that it necessarily changes the course of the film perse, but it adds a depth to Billy really setting him up as the rock that so many people depend on and take for granted.  The fact that he never complains, is always quick with an answer or joke, and is generally upbeat says a lot about his inner strength which Rushton exudes with ease.  Since so much of the focus of the film rests on Tom Hanks’ shoulders, it’s easy to relegate Kopeke/Rushton to the friend who is there for the silly string puke fight and the confidant that agrees that Baskin needs to get his check changed into three dimes, a single hundred dollar bill, and eighty seven ones.

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When you combine this sequence with the one at the school on the morning when Josh mystically ages up it gets slightly deeper.  Alone in gym class, Billy is the awkward kid who shows a brave face and tries to participate (even if he thinks it’s dumb), only to be ridiculed and mocked by the rest of the class and blamed for a mess he didn’t create by the coach.  Without Josh by his side Billy is utterly alone, both with no other apparent friends and no one in his family that even pays attention to him unless he’s on the phone (and then only to yell at him to get off.)

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When you consider that Josh is off on an adventure in New York for six or seven weeks and then think about how much it must mean to billy to steal into the city and spend some quality time catching up, going out to a Yankees game or dancing on the back of a delivery truck, it makes the betrayal of Josh brushing off the search for the Zoltar machine sting all that much more.  That brings up an interesting point between the two character’s differences too.  When Josh is first freaking out about his predicament, Billy is there at every step of the way with an solution to the problem.  He snags his father’s “emergency” fund risking who knows what kind of punishment from his folks.  He takes Josh to the city and finds the hotel.  He brings him clothes, suggests he get a job, helps him look, and even comes up with the social security number solution (even if it was three digits off, “oh-one-two.”)  He’s also the only one really working to find the Zoltar.  In some additional deleted sequences the film shows him calling through the list of companies and license holders that are on the list they ordered from the city.

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Billy really is the more capable of the two, and when it comes right down to it he’s the only one who is fighting to keep their friendship alive.  If it were up to Josh, he’d so easily move on.  So at the end of the film, when Billy makes his last stand and storm into Josh’s office and throwing down the gauntlet of their friendship, after all the new material cut into the flick it really does make this scene more emotional.  Again, it sort of changes the overall message of the film for me too.  It’s not so much about Josh’s personal journey anymore, but coming back to his senses and ultimately coming back to his steadfast friend Billy Francis Kopeke (which is then underlined by book-ending the film with the two of them walking down the street after another game of stick-ball.)  We should all have a BFF like Billy, or more accurately, a BFK.

 

8-Bit Christmas is the Fruitcake of 80s Nostalgia Novels…

This is the first year in a long time when I’m doing my best to get into the holiday spirit for the Christmas season. For a good portion of my life Halloween has basically been my “Christmas”, and for all intents and purposes the period between November 1st through to January 1st is usually a time when I duck my head down and try and run as fast as I can through the rest of the year trying my best not to knock down any family and friends along the way. It’s a mixture of being burnt out after celebrating a month-long Halloween, and trying to fend off the insanity that comes with trying to find the perfect gifts, visiting with a modern fractured family and trying my best not to go broke in the process. But this year? I’m going all out by letting go of my worries and embracing the holiday.

So I was pretty stoked when I was approached by DB Press to take a look at the first novel from scriptwriter Kevin Jakubowski titled 8-Bit Christmas. Being described as “…A Christmas Story for the Nintendo generation…” (by author James Frey), 8-Bit Christmas tells the story of one kid’s epic quest of Super Mario Bros. proportions to secure a NES for Christmas. Amidst flaming wreaths, speeding minivans, lost retainers, fake Santas, hot teachers, snotty sisters, “Super Bowl Shuffles” and one very naked Cabbage Patch Kid, Kevin’s book vividly weaves a nostalgic tale of Christmas magic and 8-bit glory. Honestly this book being touted as packed with 80s era Christmas nostalgia sounded like just what I needed to kick off my own attempt to embrace the holiday again.

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First and foremost, 8-Bit Christmas delivers on the nostalgia. Set in the late 80s and centering on Jake Doyle, a nine year-old who covets a neighbor’s NES to the extent where it borders on single-minded stalker-level obsession, the book makes reference to practically every major pop culture aspects from the decade. The Super Bowl Shuffle, baseball card collecting, Showbiz pizza and the Rock-Afire Explosion, the Pizza Hut Book It program, KangaRoos zipper pocket shoes, Max Headroom, Members Only Jackets, Moon Boots, as well as a litany of bands, cartoons, movies, TV shows, and toys way too numerous to name. Karate Kid references? Yup, there’s more than the entire Cobra Kai can battle. Star Wars? G.I. Joe? Transformers? Go Bots? Strawberry Shortcake? Cabbage Patch Kids? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Much like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One before it, the novel is an outlet to celebrate all of the stuff we 30-Somethings loved so much about our 80s childhoods, and all of our hyper-collective shared experiences. If there’s one thing our generation does well, it’s bonding over the insane level of pop culture awareness and merchandising from that decade. Jakubowski does an admirable job of shoehorning in so many references, and touching on so many aspects of what it was like being a kid during that time that I’d be hard-pressed to imagine any rock he left unturned. Well, he does skip over the mentioning branded lunchboxes when comparing and contrasting packed lunches versus buying the hot tray at school. Is every reference accurate and researched? No. He fudges release dates (mentioning the Karate Kid cartoon as a favorite even though it didn’t debut until a year after the winter of ’88 when the book is set) and mashes together experiences (like listing cartoons that only aired during the after school animation blocks or on cable like Inspector Gadget, Transformers and G.I. Joe as Saturday Morning cartoons.) But when you consider the sheer volume of nostalgic references, nit picking the errors and decade blending is pretty pointless.

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Where the book sort of falls apart for me can be summed up by James Frey’s pull quote from above which evokes the film A Christmas Story; Jakubowski doesn’t just shoot for ACS‘s tone, he basically uses it as a point-for-point outline. Whether it’s aping the aged and slightly sarcastic narration of the main character reflecting on his youth, the plot device of a kid yearning for that one specific Christmas gift and then dealing with parents that basically tell him he’ll shoot his eye out with the NES Zapper, being forced to wear an item of goofy, girly clothing, reminiscing over the old man’s curmudgeonly ways, dealing with an annoying and whiny younger sibling, battling the town bully, or using the exact turn of phrases that seem uniquely in the voice of A Christmas Story, the book starts to feel a little hollow when you get past 80s homages. This is amp-ed up by a sort of ridiculous conceit that in 1988 only one kid in an entire Illinois county has a Nintendo Entertainment System, and only because his parents are filthy stinking rich. Having grown up in a decidedly middle class family with plenty of friends on both sides of the financial spectrum, I’m having a hard time remembering many kids who DIDN’T have an NES. Amp the story up even further with a Footloose-level county-wide ban on both owning AND selling Nintendo after the system is blamed for the accidental death of a yappy dog and all the reader is left being able to relate to is the plethora of 80s references. I think the problem lies with Jakubowski slavishly relying on A Christmas Story for inspiration. He riffs on Ralphie’s obsessive daydreams in that film as a jumping off point to tell Jake Doyle’s story, but forgets that with the exception of an all out attack by a pack of wild neighbor dogs on the family’s beloved turkey and an outlandishly sexualized leg lamp, that film is pretty firmly grounded in a very believable reality. 8-Bit Christmas has its head in the clouds and packs the book so full of wacky adventures in addition to Doyle’s Nintendo obsessed daydreams, that for me it was hard to relate to the story. As a film it would probably be easier to get behind, with only an hour and a half’s investment, but spending 8 or so hours reading a book it just sort of left me a little cold. It also doesn’t help that the singular obsession with obtaining an NES overshadows most if not all of the Christmas spirit in the book. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that instead of helping me get into the mood the book kind of reinforced a lot of insanity I’ve been trying to avoid for the past 15 years.

When all is said and done, even though the story didn’t resonate with me as much as I’d hoped, I can’t help but recommend 8-Bit Christmas purely on the richness of the 80s pop culture experience. There are enough obscure observations to balance the obvious references and that alone makes the book a worthwhile read.  It’s so literally heavy and densely packed, it’s like the fruitcake of 80s nostalgia novels…

Shaking the Pillars of Heaven…

So, the start of a new week, and it’s already been a rather crazy roller coaster of ups and downs here at Branded HQ.  Live in or around Jacksonville, FL area?  Did you feel the ground quake around noon on Saturday?  Did it rain frogs for a bit and mess up your outdoor lunch festivities?  Did your rose bushes suddenly burst into very fragrant flames?  Well that was probably partly my fault as I made a day trip down to the area to meet some folks in person that I’ve been talking with online for years.  That’s right, I finally got a chance to meet Paxton Holley of the amazing Cavalcade of Awesome, and in the process uniting 2/3rds of the Cult Film Club in person for the first time (no worries, I brought Jaime along in spirit, or rather with a bit of her soul that was captured on film and then printed out at Kinko’s.)  I’m pretty sure there’s some old testament prophecy about some pretty crazy stuff happening if all three of us were to gather in person in the same location at the same time…

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So what was I doing in that neck of the woods?  Well, when not talking about rad cult films, Pax’s main podcasting gig is as a co-host of the Nerd Lunch show (which I’ve been on a time or two, or ten actually), and they’ve been planning an IRL meet-up for awhile.  Carlin, Paxton, Robert (from the cool To the Escape Hatch site) and myself all converged on Jacksonville for some great food (at 4 Rivers Smokehouse), some great conversation (there should be a podcast released soon), and just some good times in general.

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In addition to the above conversation and merriment I was also introduced to the concept of a Doritos encrusted Mountain Dew flavored cupcake.  Yeah, read that last bit slowly and mull on that idea as you take a look at this monstrosity…

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It was pretty insane.  Not as Dew-y as I’d hoped, but still pretty darn tasty and crazy.

In other news, my beloved DVD player of the last 10 years has passed on to that electronic junk pile in the sky (which I imagine is actually the planet Junkion from Transformers the Movie.)  I’ve watched a metric ton of films and TV on that player and was pretty sad to see it go.  I mean, I wore thumb and finger grooves in the remote.  Sigh.  Well, the last movie to play on it was an 80s flick I’d neglected to watch until last night, the John Hughes written/produced romantic comedy Some Kind of Wonderful.  So if it was going to die, at least it, A, let me watch this flick, and B, picked a pretty rad movie to spin as it’s last screening. I’m glad it didn’t sputter out any sooner as I was able to see a very young and super precocious Candace Cameron playing with her collection of Garbage Pail Kids!  Harkening back to The Monster Squad post, it looks like Eugene wasn’t the only collector on the silver screen…

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In a move that was almost too cute to bear, Hughes, director Howard Deutch, or maybe even Cameron herself decided to have the GPKs fighting against each other.  My head almost exploded by the sheer amount of adorable nostalgia on the screen.

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I also love that she had both a collection on the backing in a cigar box as well as a bunch of stickers that were applied in a photo album.  Too cool.  I don’t remember ever seeing sticker collection in a flick like this before (though I’m sure I’m forgetting a movie or two…)

So, now I have to decide.  Do I finally get a Blu-Ray player and an HD TV?

 

No Seriously, I Guess I like Talking… ;)

All of a sudden one stops and takes stock of the past few weeks and it’s impossible to ignore the fact that you’ve been hosting or guest hosting on a ton of podcasts.  This happens to everyone right?  Seriously, I think I’ve been making up for my recent internet sabbatical in the form of podcasting.  It’s immediate, the editing is minimal (as if I edit my writing, pshaw), and the conversations tend to be a lot more fun than just banging away at my keyboard.  I’m not really comparing the two for any other reason than trying to rationalize how in the past two week’s I’ve had six podcast announcements!  Seriously, I guess I like talking…

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So, what are the other three shows I’ve been involved with recently you might be asking yourself?  Well, first off, there’s a brand new episode of the Cult Film Club, the show I do with some criminally awesome co-hosts, Paxton Holley and Jaime Hood.  This should be of interest to folks who enjoy this site as the movie we chose for discussion is none other than the batshit insane Karate Kid III!

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For real, this flick is crazy, and as my co-hosts point out, Karate Kid III is basically a parody of the first KK film.  John Kreese, down on his luck after all of the Cobra Kai students have abandoned him in the wake of some crazy car-window punching and nose honking, seeks revenge against Daniel and Miyagi by hooking up with his secret CK grand master and old war buddy Terry Silver.  They lure Daniel to the dark side of the, um, karate, and well, you have to watch this film to believe that it was actually made.  We chat about the film, the actors, some dream re-writes, and how we all secretly wish we were Terry Silver.  You can listen to the episode and join the Cult Film Club here!

Next up is the long awaited release of the new episode of the Saturday Supercast!

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This time I check back in with hosts Jerzy Drozd and Dave Roman to discuss one of my all-time favorite flicks, 1986′s Transformers the Movie.  We’re joined by the super cool Matt Hawkins to discuss the film, the soundtrack, the casting, and we all provide some interesting arguments for how the Decepticons managed to hand the Autobots their buts so easily at the start of the flick!  We all had way too much for with the conversation and it ended up a long show.  So Jerzy and Dave broke it in half.  Check out Part 1 over at Sugary Serials!

Last but not least, I was kindly asked to be a guest on the latest Retro Retro Retro Podcast by the really awesome and swell guy Raven J!

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The discussion is all about magazine memories, NES and Gensis video game reviews, as well as some movie reviews.  I sat in on the discussion of magazines with Raven and his crew and had a blast.  Check out their site, and you can find the episode here!

Oh, I just wanted to say good-bye and remind you that the good guys always win, even in the eighties…

So, um, HOLY CRAP! While I’ve been working away on the upcoming Halloween fun for the site I totally missed the fact that the truly awesomely horrible movie, Megaforce, was finally released on DVD this past month. I missed this flick when it was originally released, which is a shame since for all intents and purposes Megaforce is the perfect 80s era live-action G.I. Joe movie, something I would have flipped my lid over if I’d managed to catch it on HBO or the Saturday afternoon movies on the UHF station…

I recently caught up with the movie via youtube, but ever since I’ve been doing double the amount of “it’s not on DVD” lamenting that a lot of 80s nerds have been doing for years. Well now the wait is over and we can finally catch what I assume is a better quality copy than the chopped up grainy version on youtube.

For those not familiar, Megaforce was originally released in 1982 and directed by the great Hal Needham (he of Rad, Smokey and the Bandit, and Cannonball Run fame.) The flick stars an impossibly confident and effeminate Barry Bostwick (with a penchant for wearing shiny skin-tight suits) as a character named Ace Hunter, the enigmatic leader of Megaforce an internal paramilitary unit consisting of the best of the best of the world’s military. Very G.I. Joe. They work in secret from a hidden fortress in the desert, developing state of the art weapons, vehicles and technology that enables them to combat ruthless terrorist organizations bent on ruling the world. Seriously, very, very G.I. Joe.

I need to do a proper review of this flick at some point, but lets just say that I had the same reaction after watching it as I did when I heard it was finally out on DVD. Both of which can be summed up by the below picture…

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If you grew up on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and you haven’t seen Megaforce, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. It’s not the best movie ever, it’s just the best G.I. Joe movie made to date. And it has flying motorcyles. And Barry Bostwick does a lot of over the top heroic posturing, both figuratively and literally…

Remembering my first experience with The Monster Squad…

Twenty five years ago today The Monster Squad was released in theaters.  August 14th, 1987.  I was ten years-old, and though I didn’t see it on the 14th, I was at the theater bright and early for the first showing on a Saturday the following week, the 22nd.  The main reason I remember this is because there were two flicks I was desperately looking forward to seeing that summer, Monster Squad and Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie.  I don’t remember the exact conversation I had with my parents that led to waiting the week until they were both out, but I remember them convincing me that I could see both on the same day and I’d have just enough allowance that second weekend if I waited.

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I was never good with money as a kid. In fact my allowance was usually spent well in advance of actually receiving it, either by asking the parents for an advance, or by borrowing it from my more conservative friends with promises to pay it back plus free baseball cards or action figures as interest.  So waiting a whole extra week with my parents holding onto my allowance was sort of a form of torture.  That Saturday, after being dropped off at the theater with my friend Bryan, the plan was to buy our tickets to see The Monster Squad and then kill some time in a nearby used book/comic store until the flick started.  We bought our tickets and proceeded on into the shop, my hands clamped around my remaining $4 (the GPK ticket money) in my pocket.  All seemed to be going well until I stumbled upon some unopened rack-packs of series 2 and 3 Garbage Pail Kids.  I had just enough money for 4 of these packs, and series 2 cards were getting pretty scarce by this time in ’87.  What a predicament!  I couldn’t help myself and I ended up buying the stickers figuring that I’d just have to sit and wait in the lobby while my friend caught the second half of our planned double feature.

As the credits started to roll on The Monster Squad, Bryan and I had a pow wow to try and figure out what I should do.  I can’t remember which one of us came up with the idea, but the new plan was for both of us to go back out into the lobby and pretend like our parents were supposed to be waiting to pick us up.  We’d walked around the lobby, looking appropriately concerned for our “missing” parents, for a bit before asking to see a manager.  We basically related our made up sob-story about how we we’d been waiting forever and that our parents were late in picking us up and that we didn’t know what to do.  The manager, obviously not wanting to deal with us, took down our names and told us to just go in and watch another movie.  Jackpot.  We’d managed to get into both flicks, and I was three rack packs of Garbage Pail Kids richer for my diabolical deception skills (the 4th pack went to Bryan for taking part in the ruse.)  I wasn’t generally a bad kid, but greed surely got the best of me that day.

The only other thing that I remember from that day was having an argument in the car ride home about the Sean and Horace werewolf confrontation scene.  Bryan insisted Sean kept saying “Kick him in the Balls!”, while I was firmly in the “Nards” camp…

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Visiting the Jim Henson Exhibit at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta…

It’s so easy to get lost in the sea of social media sometimes, pining after all the cool events and places other people are visiting and enjoying that are either too far away or too expensive to take advantage of.  At times like this that I have to remind myself that I take the area I live in for granted and forget that there’s a bunch of really cool stuff just under my nose.  This past weekend I decided to tune out the internet and take a stroll down to Atlanta’s Center for the Puppetry Arts to visit their semi-permanent Jim Henson Exhibit.  I’ve known about the center’s museum for awhile and I drive past it every time I find myself at the downtown Ikea, so it was way past time that I stopped and took a look…

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I’m a pretty big fan of Jim Henson, though I’d hardly call myself an expert.  While I may not know the proper names of all the c-list muppets, I can say that I can’t imagine what my childhood would have been like had I not been introduced to the Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, the Dark Crystal and Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.  I’d heard that the exhibit featured some fun props and artifacts from Henson’s career, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how many of the Henson Company’s beloved creations I would have the opportunity to see up close and personal.

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All told, there were thirteen different projects represented, my six childhood favorites that I listed above as well as puppets and materials from Henson’s advertising work (the La Choy Dragon), The Jim Henson Hour, Dinosaurs, Farscape, and others.  Each section of the exhibit has plenty of anecdotes, behind the scenes information and pictures, as well as videos and a couple of hands-on activities.  It’s not a huge collection, but what’s included is certainly breathtaking.  For me, the magic of this museum is getting a chance to get so darn close to the actual puppets and props from the shows, specials and movies I love so much.  Whether it’s the majesty of seeing Big Bird…

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…or the chance to spend some time with the critter’s from Labyrinth (like Sir Didymus and the lying door guard pictured below.)

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Just getting a chance to see the detail and craftsmanship of these characters was an astounding experience!  My pictures do absolutely no justice to the actual props, but are merely presented to give you an idea of what’s included.  I know that there is a down side to seeing these puppets sitting so static behind glass.  All the energy and life is lost without the performer, and in some cases this can almost be criminal or traumatic (as in Sir Didymus’ case), but I’d still recommend anyone with the opportunity to visit the Center to try and put that at the back of you mind.

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By far, some my favorite pieces had to be in the Fraggle Rock section which features a couple different scales of Fraggles (Mokey and Red in the normal/large scale, as well as all five – including Gobo, Wembly, and Boober – in a smaller scale as shot during the scenes with the Gorgs) and some Doozers…

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…but I also loved seeing Emmet and Ma Otter from the Jugband Christmas special.  Honestly, I almost tear-ed up when I turned and saw the two in their little green rowboat.  All the songs came flooding back in, and I just stood and stared at them, trying to soak in all the little details…

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For you Muppets fans, there are plenty of Henson’s characters on display including Rolf, Dr. Teeth, and the Swedish Chef, as well as a couple others in a separate part of the museum (lets just say they were Out of This World…)

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Though the Henson section of the museum is pretty darn rad, there is also a more permanent puppetry exhibit that’s also very illuminating and features all sorts of puppets from across the globe (including Madame!)  But it was at the end of the second wing that I stumbled across my favorite piece in the entire museum, a full-size Skeksis (the General), including his gnarly sword, from the Dark Crystal.  There are no words for how amazing this piece of Henson history is.  Again, my iPhone camera did the Skeksis absolutely no justice…

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If you get a chance to stop in Atlanta, do yourself a favor and visit the Center for Puppetry Arts and peruse the Jim Henson Exhibit.  It’s well worth your time and money for sure.  If you want to see some more of my crappy photos, they’re on my facebook page

Oh my god! They Killed Kinney! You Bastards!

7546129954_84c5f2ed6d_oI’ve written a bit about how the extreme violence in Robocop affected me as a kid, and if I had to pinpoint the specific scene that did the most damage I would have to say that it’s the boardroom scene and the unfortunate end to one Mr. Kinney.  If it’s true that exposure to violence can desensitize a person to its impact, then I’m pretty sure this sequence is what did me in as it’s the first time I saw a death scene portrayed quite so violently.  Desensitization aside, I’d argue that this sequence is integral to establishing the world, humor and hyper-stylized tone of Robocop, and is a prime example of when less is more as the four seconds that was edited out of the sequence ends up making the scene much more disturbing than intended.

So before I go on, let’s take a look at this sequence.  The scene opens with Morton and Johnson taking an elevator in the OCP building to head up to a conference about the future of Delta City.  Kinney (played by Kevin Page), a young, wet-behind-the-ears, junior executive, jumps on with them and for all intents and purposes plays the role of the audience, asking all the obvious questions so that we can get the gist of what’s going on at Omni Consumer Products…

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As the meeting starts Kinney is seated at the very back of the room, furthest away from “the Old Man”, but as Dick Jones gets up to lead his presentation introducing his sector’s prototype for the ED-209 (Enforcement Droid), we can see that Kinney has the best/worst seat in the house.

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Jones needs an assistant to illustrate how the Ed-209 works in a disarmament procedure, and of course Kinney is a prime choice, and is more than eager to help (in fact, in the novelization of the film he’s described by Ed Naha as “…a kinetic portrait of unchecked enthusiasm…”)

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Dick Jones then pulls out a shiny silver Desert Eagle and hand the small canon to Kinney…

 Sigh.  Kinney, you poor, poor bastard.

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This is the point in the film when we as the audience get the first hint that we’re in for some intense shit.  It was scary enough when the ED-209 unit first came into the boardroom, thrusting its legs forward and heaving the weight of its torso too and fro.  But as I mentioned above, Kinney is the stand in for the audience.  We’re right there with him as he points that gun at the enforcement droid, and when that booming deep voice commands us to drop our weapon, we have 20 seconds to comply, we know this isn’t going to end well for our stand-in.  Now we’re effectively trapped inside Kinney, second-guessing and future role-playing invitations, and we’re just as concerned as he his as he turns to Mr. Jones for some sage advice about how in the hell he’s supposed to get out of this situation.

Sure, drop the gun.  Seems reasonable enough.  I know staring at that brute of a droid in the…uh, face?  Grill?  Whatever, staring at that thing would have me forgetting all my common sense too.  Again, this is the genius of the scene as we’re right there with Kinney.  Ker-clunk.  Gun dropped.  But what’s that?  The droid didn’t hear it fall?  WTF?

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What’s this happy horseshit about me having 10 seconds to comply!?!  That’s right Dr. MacNamera, you better rip open that command console and pull the plug on this hulking monster!

It’s at this point when both Kinney and the audience are afforded their last hope of sanity in the film.  One last split second where we hear a faint whisper in the back of our heads saying “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here…”  Though I may be a tad desensitized to onscreen violence in movies, I can honestly say that this serene split-second still gives me chills and equally fills me with dread for what I know is coming next.  Kinney, you have five seconds to comply.  Five seconds to live.

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So getting back to the violence and the potential this film had for an X-rating.  As originally filmed, the sequence where Kinney is torn apart in a hail of canon-fire from ED-209 is a sticky, burnt and bloody 9-12 seconds…

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The screen continuously cuts between Kinney getting pummeled from the front, from behind, and back to ED-209 blasting away.  Even after Kinney is knocked back onto the scale model of Delta City, the droid continues to fire on him, ripping up his legs and chest, more and more.  It actually lasts long enough that at a point, you can’t help but start to nervously laugh and ask can this possibly continue?  And that point IS the point of this scene.  It’s stepping over that line of decency into lunacy that lets the audience in on the joke of the whole film.  This isn’t reality anymore, it’s a cartoon.  The punch line of this cartoon joke is delivered by the dumbass that screams for a paramedic, as if there could possibly be any hope to salvage poor Kinney’s life.

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What makes this scene even funnier is that it’s a dry run for the sequence where Boddicker and his gang maim and kill Murphy.  It’s funny because they do salvage Murphy, and in a way they save his life.  But not Kinney.  Poor, poor Kinney.  “Don’t Touch Him!  DON’T TOUCH HIM!!!”

Anyway, back to that pesky X-rating.  In order to avoid this, Verhoeven and company ended up slicing up the sequence, cutting our a mere 4 seconds of footage and earning that coveted R.  But as I said above, less is more, and the shortened theatrical sequence is way more disturbing in its abrupt dispatching of Kinney.  It plays so much more callous and cold, and when Morton utters the famed final word on Kinney’s life, “Hey, that’s life in the big city…”, it’s all the more unnerving.

I find it interesting that Kinney’s death makes its way into two pieces of merchandising.  The first isn’t all that surprising, as it’s included in a full page sequence in the first Marvel adaptation of the film into a comic book…

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Though it’s not surprising, it is a little more violent than I’m used to Marvel adaptations being, though it was printed under the Epic comics imprint I believe.

The other instance is a two-card sequence in the Robocop 2 Topps trading card set…

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At the end of the day Kevin Page may have played a minor role in Robocop as Kinney, but his five or so minutes on film have haunted me for years.  I’m not sure if there’s much more that an actor can ask as a legacy than having that kind of impact.

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The only thing better than one glow in the dark Nightfighter Robocop, is two GITD Nightfighter Robocops!

7530728002_35445e5f7a_oFor today’s installment of Robo-madness I thought it would be fun to take a look at a couple of toys based on the Robocop film (and cartoon series.)  Back in 1988 we were treated to slew of RC merchandising and spinoffs including lunchboxes, school supplies, a Marvel Productions cartoon and a toyline, Robocop and the Ultra Police, from Kenner.  Though the cartoon and toyline were connected, for kids like me that never saw the cartoon when it originally aired, these figures and vehicles were just an extension of the film.  I only had a couple of the toys, the main Robocop figure and his Police Cruiser, but they stayed in my toybox for years afterwards.  At some point during a move, around the time when I was in high school, my parents got a bit sneaky and trashed all of my toys.  Because we ended up shifting from a two-story house to a cramped apartment, this unfortunate off-loading of my childhood went unnoticed until I ended up moving out on my own a couple years later.  Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I spotted a picture of a new NECA action figure release of a glow-in-the-dark Robocop.  Seeing that new figure brought back a lot of my old memories of having RC face off against my Transformers and G.I. Joe figures, and that’s when I did some research and realized that the 25th anniversary of the film was right around the corner.  That cinched it, and I knew I both had to spend some time on the site in honor of the film, and track down this new gitd Robocop figure!

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It didn’t take long to acquire the NECA Robocop, and after hitting the net in research mode again I realized that new toy was actually an homage to one of the original 1988 Ultra Police figures, Nightfighter Robocop.  So I made a quick detour to eBay and found an original Nightfighter that had been sitting in the collection of a former Kenner employee for 24 years.  I bought the figure and couldn’t wait to get him so that I could see the two glow-y figures side by side…

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Like most toylines in the 80s, The Ultra Police line was filled with all sorts of random variant versions of the main character, sort of like how Batman had six million different costumes in the Animated Series toyline, one for battling lava, one for flying, etc.  If there’s one gimmick that always wins me over, it’s a figure made out of glow-in-the-dark plastic.  It’s purely for aesthetic reasons, but I love both the way the figures look when glowing and the slightly pale green mixed with milky white of the plastic in normal light.  It surely doesn’t hurt that this Robocop variant also features a Gatling Gun arm and cap-firing abilities.

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The updated NECA version, released as a Toys R Us exclusive, excludes the chain-gun limb, but it does a masterful job of providing a more realistic take on the Robocop body armor sculpt.  The packaging designers also had their tongue planted firmly in their cheeks when transferring the bulk of the original figure’s descriptive copy which reads: “Robocop(‘s) special night gear makes him completely invisible to the evil Vandels gang.  Nightfighter armor can be seen only by the Ultra Police troops.”  Right, so the eerie illuminated and glowing green armor is actually invisible?  Sigh.  It made more sense in the 80s…

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Another action option that didn’t made the cut when updating the Nightfighter figure was the cap-firing action.  The original figures, all of the Robocop figures I believe, had the ability to load and fire strips of caps.  I can see this being troublesome in the modern market.  Actually, do any companies even make cap-firing toys anymore?  Regardless, though this option is sorely missed, this is another instance when the updated sculpt makes up for it in spades.  Like most 80s era toys, Robocop’s grip on his gun was somewhat fugly looking not to mention quite tenuous.  The new version not only has a nice grip on things, the gun is now almost perfectly screen accurate as well.  It might not handily clip to the figure’s hip like with the old toy, but I can let that slide…

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One last comparison I’d like to make in terms of sculpting can be seen in the Achilles tendon/pistons on Robocop’s feet.  The original toyline tried its best to recreate the idea of this design flourish, but in the updated toy they’re magnificent!  Not only are they accurate in terms of sculpting, but they’re articulated and actually work.  Granted, I have a fear that with too much moving and repositioning these will be the first parts to break on the figure, but they sure are pretty…

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Here’s a nice quality scan of the cardback from the original toy featuring the entire line of Ultra Police figures and vehicles.  Though it would be pretty cool to track down a nice version of the basic Robocop figure again, I’d really like to find an affordable version of the ED-260 (the cartoon update to the ED-209.)  Not only does it fire caps, but it looks really neat too!

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I promised my wife that we wouldn’t go in debt during this Robocop week, so I limited myself to these two figures pictured above.  So for these next four images, I had to resort to swiping pictures off of eBay.  I just wanted to post the original basic figure, as well as some of the zanier variants that would pop up by the time the live action Robocop series came along…

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I guess by the 90s a simple glow in the dark figure wasn’t enough, so they had to upgrade to a series of light-up figures like the one pictured below.

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Tying for the most ridiculous variants have to be Sky Patrol and Toxic Emergency Robocops.  Though he did attain flight capabilities by the third film, I’ve tried my best to erase the memory of that movie from my brain…

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Taking a closer look at Robocop, literally…

7539715584_cb52a4a1a0_oDay three of the Robomadness is here, and along with it are a series of blueprint/schematic illustrations for both Robocop and ED-209…

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Ever wonder where Murphy’s Digestion Organ Pot or Main Energy Battery are located?  Wonder no longer.  I used to love finding imagery like this when I was a kid.  Not that any of this is useful in a practical manner, but the idea that the creators of these kinds of characters were thinking about them this deeply.  My favorites used to be when there would be a weapon or gadget breakdown in the Marvel Universe Handbook issues.  You know, illustrating how Spider-Man’s web-shooters or Wolverine’s claws worked.

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If nothing else, I feel comfortable knowing that Robocop has a black box separate from his computer backup system.  Can’t be too careful when it comes to a healthy disaster recovery plan.

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Here are some fun illustrations of ED-209 as well…

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All of the above came from an out-of-print Japanese magazine I believe, as well as the two ED-209 illustrations below…

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Last up today is something a bit more modern in the form of a recent Robocop screening poster.  Artist Tim Doyle did this wonderful explosive schematic titled “Murphy, It’s You”…

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You can find Tim’s website here, as well as some fairly decently priced screen prints of the above poster at the Spoke Art store!